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Knights stun the champions

Jacques Kallis on way to 72, in Abu Dhabi, on Wednesday. Picture courtesy: BCCI

Abu Dhabi: Gautam Gambhir’s faith in the ability of his bowlers paid off as Kolkata Knight Riders romped to a 41-run win over defending champions Mumbai Indians, in the opening match of the IPL VII, at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, here on Wednesday.

Electing to bat, Gambhir himself failed to make a mark, but his teammates Jacques Kallis and Manish Pandey took the fight to the opponents, and did not let the Mumbai team relish the early wicket of their captain.

KKR’s start might have been a little slow, but they managed to put up a respectable 163 for five, and then, thanks mainly to the exploits of Sunil Narine and Morne Morkel, restricted MI to only 122/7 in their 20 overs.

The MI batsmen really had no answer to the guile of Narine and Morkel’s pace. Apart from the 61-run third wicket stand between Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma, there was hardly any performance of note.

The credit goes to the KKR bowlers. With Gambhir using his six bowlers judiciously, they maintained a tight grip on the MI innings. With wickets falling at regular intervals, and fours and sixes not coming easily, the Mumbai Indians’ chase just got tougher and tougher. Only seven boundaries and two sixes were struck in the innings.

Narine’s deception even got Robin Uthappa all hot under the collars behind the stumps. Keeping wickets can be a tough job for anyone who is not a regular, and when you have to stand up to someone of Narine’s class the task can be doubly difficult.

Narine (4/20) made his intentions clear with the wicket of Michael Hussey. The seasoned Aussie had no answer as Narine’s delivery pitched at a good length and castled him through bat and pad.

Uthappa, however, made no mistake in stumping Rayudu, off a Narine delivery that the batsman just could not read. Rayudu was so far down the pitch, that even though Uthappa fumbled a bit, he had enough time to get the bails off.

While Narine got four wickets, it was Morkel who literally made the batsmen cringe at the crease with his pace. That he got only one wicket is perhaps because Narine was brilliant in purchase.

Morkel got the important one of Rohit (27), who tried to clear the mid-wicket boundary off a full length delivery. Kallis had to cover some ground, but held on to a good catch with a timely dive.

Earlier, 14 runs off the last over, off Corey Anderson, took KKR to a respectable 163 for five.

Electing to bat, KKR captain Gambhir had said that he wanted to give his strong bowling attack a chance to defend and win the match for them. And his batsmen saw to it that they did have a defendable total on the board.

With Kallis (72) and young Pandey (64) taking the fight to the defending champions, KKR came out with heads held high.

Gambhir wanted to lead from the front, coming out to bat with Kallis. But he was sent back to the pavilion in the second over itself, without even troubling the scorer. He failed to read a Lasith Malinga yorker and the gem of a delivery from the Mumbai Indians bowler saw to it that Gambhir could do little and watch his middle stump get rattled.

The match also saw a moment that upheld the spirit of the game. Trying to take the aerial route against Malinga, Kallis hit towards long off. Anderson rushed in, and dived to take a great low catch, inches off the ground. Kallis asked Anderson whether he had taken in cleanly, and as the fielder nodded, Kallis walked. Indeed a pleasant sight in the tournament that is being played under the ominous shadow of alleged match-fixing and betting during its previous season.